Earlier this week I reported on a coalition of major German publishers which had filed a lawsuit against Google. The publishers wanted to be paid for the privilege of being listed in Google’s search results, and after a similar legislative effort didn’t succeed this year decided to pursue the issue in court.
New details have come to light which I didn’t have earlier this week, and they reveal that this case has even more problems than I identified. Jeff Jarvis, writing over on his blog Buzz Machine, tells us that the publishers are making unreasonable demands:
Half the major publishers in Germany have started a process of arbitration — which, no doubt, will lead to suits — to demand that Google pay them for quoting from and thus linking to their content. And now we know how much they think they deserve: 11% of Google’s revenue related to their snippets. From their , they want a cut of “gross sales, including foreign sales” that come “directly and indirectly from making excerpts from online newspapers and magazines public.” [All these links are in German.]
And just to be clear, the publishers aren’t asking for 11% of Google’s revenues to share with sites which are linked to by Google; this is just for the coalition.
Jarvis goes on to point out that Google is never going to go along, and rather than point to Google’s past refusals he explains that it would ruin Google’s business as well as the infrastructure of knowledge online. If we can find only the knowledge that pays to be found, then the net turns into … oh, I don’t know, a newsstand?” he writes.
He’s not wrong.
It’s not clear how this lawsuit will turn out, but unless political pressure is brought to bear I don’t see it going anywhere. As I explained on Wednesday, even if Google is breaking a law chances are the publishers who are suing Google have already granted permission for Google to use their content. Google changed their ToS for Google News in Germany last year, requiring explicit agreement that Google can use the content for free.
At this point it is still up in the air whether the publishers have a case, but even if they win they will still lose. Google will likely delist the publishers, thus costing them the free advertising which Google was providing.
P.S. Apparently German publishers have been trying to get this money from Google for over 4 years now, but so far they have failed.